Rowayton Library
End of Summer 2012                  Reviews by Rowayton Library's Reader Advisor, Ruth Freeman

Still a few more days of summer...


'Capital' by John Lanchester is a sprawling, hard to put down novel. Set in London, circa 2008, it is the story of the residents of Pepys Rd., a motley assortment of citizens ranging from wealthy bankers to immigrant newsagents. It's a high wire act to successfully pull off the multiple story lines and family dramas, but Lanchester writes with confidence and aplomb. The common thread is the mysterious postcards everyone periodically receives that say "We want what you have". You care a lot about the people who live on this road, and the ancillary characters that are cleverly woven into their lives. Lanchester writes with immediacy, weaving in current events and concerns and while sympathetically developing his characters.


Ruth Rendell's new mystery, titled 'The St. Zita Society', also takes place among the residents of a single road in London and uses an upstairs/downstairs plot device. It's very clever, and thick with her expertly rendered chilling sense of foreboding. Rendell has a famously sharp tongue and she uses it to good effect here as she skewers the class divide that still exists in parts of the UK.


'Creole Belle' by James Lee Burke is the latest in the Dave Robicheaux series. The Spanish moss still drips from the trees, the fish are jumping in the bayou and of course the bullets and fists are flying, but in this book it all feels a little bit over the top. I wonder if Burke has gotten to the end of the road with Dave Robicheaux and Clete; this plot is not particularly original and the "bad guys and gals" are a bit cartoonish. Dave's struggles with addiction are movingly portrayed and you have to admire his fierce loyalties to friends and family. Worth the read but it's not his best.


'Homemade' by Yvette Van Boven proves cooking from scratch has never been so much fun. There are beautiful, inspirational photographs and lots of recipes to make, although not all will necessarily appeal (pickled herring anyone?). The semifreddos and squash gratin are definite winners. One of this book's endearing features is the author's ability to demystify the steps involved in making staples from raw ingredients and her infectious enthusiasm for rollicking good times in the kitchen.


'Skios' by Michael Frayn is a laugh out loud farce. It was just nominated for the Mann Booker prize. This book sends up academia, anything and anyone pretentious and does it with wit and style. It takes place on a Grecian isle among villas populated with the guests of an obscure foundation, several people bent on illicit affairs, and skeptical Greeks who watch the shenanigans with a jaundiced eye. The taxi drivers are especially hilarious in their aiding and abetting of mistaken identities.


'Vengeance' by Benjamin Black marks the return of Quirk, Ireland's gift to pathology. This is the fifth in the series and they keep getting better. Quirk is a stock character in one sense, struggling with alcoholism and the lure of beautiful, sometimes deadly women. But paired with his sidekick Detective Hackett he transcends expected behavior and buckles down in order to solve the deaths that struck in two prominent Dublin families. Featuring terrific prose and unforgettable characters perfectly set in a moody 1950's era Dublin it's a welcome continuation of Quirk's story. The writing is a treat; I found myself consistently rereading sentences.


'The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns' by Margaret Dilloway is the story of Gal Garner. She is as prickly as the roses she breeds due to a lifetime of struggling with kidney disease. The surprise appearance of her 15 year old niece forces a reconsideration of priorities and family dynamics as Gal steps into roles she never thought she would occupy. Fascinating details on rose breeding round out a heartfelt story of a young woman who has suffered terribly but perseveres. There are times when it is hard to embrace Gal, but you always respect her and the tough choices and disappointments she faces. Very well written and highly recommended.


'The Exceptions' by David Cristafano is a good beach read. A family in the Federal Witness Protection Program is under threat from the narrator's mob family due to a murder they witnessed years ago. Charged with finding and killing them he has to find a way to extricate himself from his legacy and the family from danger. It's a twisty tide full of exciting near misses, complicated by a developing love affair between the daughter of the imperiled family and the narrator. It's good fun.


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